Canadian defense minister: 'Impossible to defeat Taliban militarily'
Tom Regan – CS Monitor.com September 8, 2006
Canadian Defense Minister Gordon O'Connor, speaking in an interview Thursday, said that it is "impossible to defeat the Taliban militarily." The Toronto Star reports that Mr. O'Connor's remarks were confirmed by Chief of the Defense Staff Gen. Rick Hillier in Ottawa. The Star also reports that the comments are "are certain to stun Canadians who are increasingly concerned about the rising number of Canadian casualties in Afghanistan." Thirty-two Canadians have been killed in Afghanistan since Canada joined the NATO mission there in 2002.
"Not at all," Hillier said. "That's never been the strategy – to defeat them militarily." The general added, "We don't have to defeat them militarily. What we've got to do is build a country."
Hillier said the surest path to success was the actual reconstruction of Afghanistan. That was what the Taliban feared most, he said. But he also conceded Taliban forces were waging battles that were slowing the reconstruction process. "Things are not moving as quickly as we want," Hillier said. "(There's) no question that the security situation has constrained that."
The Globe and Mail reports that the Canadian defense secretary says Canada is shouldering an undue burden in Afghanistan, and that it is time for other countries to increase their troop levels.
"All loads aren't equal, let's put it that way," he said, adding he would raise the issue at a NATO defence ministers meeting in Slovenia from Sept. 28.
NATO's top commander, meanwhile, appears to support Mr. O'Connor's view that other countries must contribute more. General James Jones has asked that additional troops and weaponry from member nations be sent to Afghanistan. Canadian forces make up about 10 per cent of the 20,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, but along with British and Dutch forces, they are leading the fight against Taliban resistance in the south, which has proven to be more tenacious and determined than expected.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports that while Gen. Jones did not name any countries who need to increase their troop levels, one defense analyst said it's not hard to guess who he is talking about.
"He was really pointing his finger at the European states involved in the provincial reconstruction team in the north [of the Afghanistan, where there is less fighting]," retired colonel Brian MacDonald said in an interview with CBC News.
MacDonald, said Jones was likely aiming his remarks at NATO members such as France, Germany and Italy, "the big powers that have a comparatively small commitment to an area that is relatively peaceful."
Earlier in the week, the Guardian reported that General Sir Richard Dannatt, the new head of the British army, told the media that British troops are only just coping with the demands that are being made on them in Afghanistan. Other British defense officials admitted that the situation in Afghanistan was "worse than military commanders had anticipated." The Guardian also writes that although the Taliban have suffered heavy losses – NATO extimates it killed 200 Taliban fighters in a recent operation – the group is "being inspired" by lessons it learned during the 10-year battle against the former Soviet Union. "Strong religious or nationalist motivation means many are unafraid of dying."
Defense Minister O'Connor's remarks about not defeating the Taliban militarily come only days after President Bush listed the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan as one of the successes in the war on terror. But in a speech Thursday, The Australian reports that Mr. Bush seemed to acknowledge the existence of a resurgent force when he commented that "the Taliban will not retake power in Afghanistan."
"They will fail because the Afghan people have tasted freedom. They will fail because their vision is no match for a democracy accountable to its citizens. They will fail because they are no match for the military forces of a free Afghanistan, a NATO alliance and the United States of America," he said.
Last updated 12/09/2006